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Oct 30th 2008
From The Economist print edition
The most famous weapon of science fiction is rapidly becoming fact
LIKE so much else in science fiction, the ray gun was invented by H.G. Wells. In the tentacles of Wells’s Martians it was a weapon as unanswerable by earthlings as the Maxim gun in the hands of British troops was unanswerable by Africans. Science fiction, though, it has remained. Neither hand-held pistols nor giant, orbiting anti-missile versions of the weapon have worked. But that is about to change. The first serious battlefield ray gun is now being deployed. And the next generation, now in the laboratory, is coming soon.
The deployed ray gun (or “directed-energy weapon”, in the tedious jargon that military men seem compelled to use to describe technology) is known as Zeus. It is not designed to kill. Rather, its purpose is to allow you to remain at a safe distance when you detonate unexploded ordnance, such as the homemade roadside bombs that plague foreign troops in Iraq.